Review: Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, by Anna Morell

Scene-from-Ben-and-Holly's-Little-Kingdom

Second fiddle to Peppa Pig, but the one the parents really like better (thanks Nanny Plum, and your gentle, brilliant sarcasm), Astley Baker Davies’ Other Creation, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, has been on tour for a couple of years now, and doesn’t stale on repeat viewing.

It’s easy to bash out a stage version of children’s favourites as a money spinner, but this show genuinely benefits from the transition from screen to stage, not least because it puts the audience at the same physical size and level as its tiny stars, whose three dimensional incarnations have a touch of puppetry about their appearance – a deliberate move that ties in to some of the staging later in the show. The sets are wonderfully simple, blocky, colour saturated and glowing with magical realism – if your definition of real, for 90 minutes, at least, is daisy-height and slug-sized, mingling with the elves and fairies.

Scenes are bite-size: a hide and seek game with a touch of magic and sparkle, some disgusting behaviour from dear-old Gaston the ladybird (shiny, remote-controlled and able to cry audience-drenching tears), some tooth fairy shenanigans and, of course, a jelly flood.

Even the antsiest of children will struggle to kick up a fuss with such short, sweet, and laugh out loud funny set pieces. And if they do, audience engagement peppers the show – from spotting things with pantomime-style interjections to singing and dancing – to let them let off some steam.

It’s utterly enchanting – to the extent that if you sat Peppa next to any child in the audience, they probably wouldn’t notice, so many eyes were glued to the stage. It’s pitch perfect, faithful to the source, but even better.

Highlights for the grown-ups are some high-kicking capering from King Thistle (keep your robe down, Your Highness!) and the flying scene. I defy you not to well up a bit at how beautiful that is. Dry your tears before the lights come up for half-time ice cream.

Anna Morell saw ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom (Live on Stage UK Tour 2015) at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford on March 27 2015.

Future Kent dates are as follows:

Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells Tue 14 and Wed 15 April

Churchill Theatre, Bromley Sat 25 and Sun 26 July

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury Wed 29 and Thu 30 July

Woodville Halls, Gravesend Fri 7 and Sat 8 August